Ben Sleeps (a Little More, a Little Less)

Gramma BenI've been encouraged by Ben's fans to write more about him. Last night, we moved him into the nursery after having spent his whole life--his whole life!--sleeping near us in a co-sleeper, which is a sort of bed sidecar. He now sleeps from 5 to 9 hours from when we put him down to when he nurses in the middle of the night, and then usually sleeps from then to 6.30 am when he wants to wake up or nurse again. We're working on that, as we're told by others and have read that if a baby can occasionally sleep 9 hours (he's only done that twice) that he could probably start sleeping consistently all through the night. He's just nearing 15 weeks, so we now have to work on turning that ship a bit.

He's gotten quite a bit more difficult to put down for a nap. He's learned some resistance, but his sleepiness still comes through. Sometimes, I can jiggle the cradle slightly and he passes out. Other times, he will fall asleep in our arms when rocking or bouncing him, and then wakes up the instant his head hits the pillow. He's a little Gandhi about sleep.

I'm reading Babywise now at the suggestion of a colleague, and I'm finding it pretty good, but, unfortunately, we're already following most of the approach that the book suggests. It's a bummer to not have additional tips! But I guess we're already wise about babies? This one, anyway. He's baffling us a bit the last two days, but we think it's cabbage salad related--he didn't eat it, but mom did, and it's her first serious brassica intake in many months.

Separation Anxiety

I'm about to get out of the friendly business of running my own email and DNS servers, while retaining my own Web servers. This marks the end of 10 years of running my own stuff, starting back in 1994 when I co-founded Point of Presence Company (POPCO). I sold the company, but my friend Scotty let me continue to run email and DNS and other stuff from his servers. I eventually set up my own servers when I moved to an office with other freelancers in 1999.

Over the years, I've wrestled with the pain of servers dying: hard drive failure, hacker attack, power supply failure, DSL modem crashes, misconfigurations, and many others.

In the same period, I've finally found outside companies that I trust: digital forest hosts my three computers (soon to be two: anyone in the market for a Xserve dual G4 1.33 GHz server?); easyDNS handles my registrar and DNS services for most of my domains; and has been my on-the-road mail service for checking accounts securely.

I've helped all of my various friends and colleagues migrate their domains, email accounts, Web sites, and blogs to other services--only a couple of sites remain, and my wife and dad's email accounts. And my own. I'll be shortly handling a final migration--gulp!--so that my email will be totally received by (which has POP, IMAP, and SMTP over SSL, an awesome option for security), and my DNS will be entirely hosted by easyDNS.

It's scary. I trust these companies for a few reasons. One, I've had accounts with them now for some time with no problems. Two, when they've had unexpected performance issues--such as a denial of service attack on easyDNS--they've been honest and communicated immediately, while detailing steps they have taken to prevent recurrence.

I've also spoken or emailed with the co-founders of both companies. easyDNS's founder read some feedback email I sent about an ongoing typo in a DNS file that I couldn't seem to get support to fix on a Friday late afternoon, and he had it fixed immediately. I interviewed's co-founder, too, for an two-part series in the Seattle Times (running last Monday and this Monday), and I was even more impressed with the service after getting more details about their policies and operations from the horse's mouth.

I'll still be running my own Web servers because I rely too much on their performance and abilities to outsource that for the moment. (If I could buy access to a high-performance MySQL server at the right price, I might do that, too.)

Scary stuff, putting yourself in the hands of others.

Later: I did the deed, pointing my MX records to A few configuration errors later on my remaining mail server and its accounts, and I'm off. Next, transfering the rest of my DNS to easyDNS...

Stamp Act

I read this piece on a proposed 10 percent (37 cent to 41 cent) first-class postage increase in the Wall Street Journal that had a quite editorial statement in the second paragraph:

Such a rise would push the price of a first-class stamp to at least 41 cents -- and hurt consumers and businesses that already have shouldered three rounds of rate increases in the past few years.

The article also notes that First-class stamps have jumped 12% since early 2001. The rate won't take effect until 2006 if they get through the various hoops. The USPS says it's for inflation plus a pension contribution issue.

But I went and found historical postage prices and graphed them against inflation. In fact, in 2003 dollars, a 41-cent stamp will cost less than any time since 1974. Real dollar postage increase took place during the Depression amid inflation, when an increase in postage in 1932 doubled its actual cost. But that rate stayed in place until 1958, when an increase was still far below the 1932 dollar value of the previous postage rate. From 1958 to 1978, rates increased, fed partly by a privatization in the early 1970s. But rates have dropped and stayed in a narrow band since then.

The chart below shows postage value in the denominated dollars at the bottom. The Postal rate (blue) is that value in the bar chart. Red is the value adjusted for inflation at the end of the period during which the blue rate was charged. (Note this increases only from 1919 to 1932 because of deflation.) The yellow bar shows what the postage rate would have to be in current dollars to keep pace with inflation at the end of the period. The 2003 pace value is the 2003 dollar adjusted figure for the denominated value. So three cents in 1932 is 40 cents in 2003.


Unusual Browser Patterns

My Wi-Fi news site has an incredible reporting system that I have access to via my content and advertising partner Jiwire. It's called Omniture, and it can slice and dice and chart stats of all kinds. After reading yesterday that Firefox has nearly 5 percent of the browser marketshare (by usage) and Microsoft Internet Explorer has lost 5 percent of its share (from 95 to 90 percent) since May, I checked my stats.

Pretty astounding: at Wi-Fi Networking News, 22 percent of visitors in November use Mozilla (Gecko) which in Omniture's reporting combines a variety of Mozilla engines. It's mostly Firefox, I'd wager. Even more remarkable, IE 6 is just 64 percent. A full 5 percent use one of two recent versions of Apple's Safari! (Opera is about 2 percent, IE 5.5 is 1.6 percent, Netscape 7 is 1.3 percent.)

I trust Omniture's visitor statistics because they use a combination of JavaScript and cookies to determine unique visitors. I run a parallel set of simpler traffic reporting that relies entirely on IP addresses and session duration data, and it pegs visitors twice as high.

Capsule SpongeBob Movie Review

Too much death and threats of death in a kiddy film. King Neptune was flat. Extended ice cream bar scene was extremely awesome, especially sugar-drunk SpongeBob behavior. Broken framing mechanism involving pirates abandoned by end. Scary parts which were unappealing. All major characters from series given cameo or highly limited roles--missing Sandy, especially, given that she's a sea monster fighter. David Hasselhoff rocked, especially the long scene on his back, butt, and legs. I give it 3 chum buckets or 1 1/2 krabby patties.

Throttling RSS

I've put into place a throttling mechanism for my RSS feed from Wi-Fi Networking News. I'll post the code soon. I use an Apache server and am essentially forcing through several RSS, RDF, and Atom feed files to be retrieved seamlessly through a script.

The script uses a MySQL database to record the agent name and IP address of requests. If the RSS feed hasn't changed in the last hour or, if longer, since the last time the same IP and agent requested a feed, the RSS aggregator gets a 304 (not modified) instead of a full dump.

I'm willing to take a small hit on testing this--losing some RSS aggregators that don't interpret this behavior correctly--in order to test whether I reduce my overall RSS feed suck.

As I noted a few days ago, my RSS feed from Wi-Fi Networking News (vast majority) is nearly an average of 400 MB per day. But a substantial minority of that is from stupid aggregators that don't check for modifications, but always request the full feed.

This is my way of fooling them. We'll see if it breaks anything, or just makes it more efficient.

Later: I have the early observations about which aggregators are really, really stinky at understanding what "please don't retrieve a page because it hasn't changed" means. I'm only intercepting GET requests, not HEAD requests, as I understand how Apache works, so I'm only recording hits from aggregators that keep taking and taking and taking bandwidth.

The top villains (and I'd be glad to get more information about them -- please drop me a line). The fact that some of these appear multiple times means that they are being accessed from different IP addresses.

Great news/update (11/22)! The folks at Xmission, whose Xmission RPC Agent was one of my top offenders, responded to some email I wrote in which I asked them if they could take a look at how their engine works, and they said there was a bug causing this kind of repetition which they've fixed. What a win-win situation: they use less bandwidth and computational time, and I don't lose readers! I've written the SmartBarXP people and hope to get a response from them, too.

Another update (later on 11/22): Greg from NewsGator wrote to find out why I was seeing such high usage from NewsGatorOnline. It's a well-behaved 'gator, it turns out: my script captures all GET requests, and the NewsGator makes all the right moves to not retrieve a non-modified page. But these are recorded in my logs as zero-byte 200 (OK) HTTP transactions. Thus NewsGatorOnline shows up with a lot of requests, but isn't pulling down traffic. Scratch 'em off the list!

Agent name Requests over a few hours
XMission RPC Agent Fixed! 11/22 253
NewsFire/0.28 36
SmartBarXP WinInet 27
SmartBarXP WinInet 22
NewsGatorOnline/2.0 Not a problem, turns out 19
NewsFire/0.28 17
SmartBarXP WinInet 16
SmartBarXP WinInet 16
SmartBarXP WinInet 16
SmartBarXP WinInet 16
SmartBarXP WinInet 15
SmartBarXP WinInet 15
curl/7.9.8 (i386-portbld-freebsd4.6.2) libcurl 7.9.8 (OpenSSL 0.9.6g) (ipv6 enabled) 15
SmartBarXP WinInet 15
lwp-trivial/1.35 15
SharpReader/ (.NET CLR 1.1.4322.2032; WinNT 5.1.2600.0) 15
SmartBarXP WinInet 15
SmartBarXP WinInet 15
SmartBarXP WinInet 14
Oddbot/1.0 (+ 13
IdeareNews/0.8 12
NewsFire/0.28 12
FeedOnFeeds/0.1.7 (+ 11

It looks like my next plan may be to entirely block certain aggregators by replying with an XML "pllllllllhhhhbbbbtt" and an item encoded note saying, "Please ask your aggregator's software developer to correct behavior in using requests to determine changed syndication feeds. You will then be allowed to use this feed again." I might offend some readers, but it looks to me like I might save a number of gigabytes a month now and much more in the future as usage grows. If you use RSS with Wi-Fi Networking News, please let me know if you're seeing errors, by the way.

Switcher: Safari to Firefox

Call me a switcher. I've been getting more and more angry at Safari's lacks, and after Apple refreshed it slightly in the latest OS X upgrade, I'm still not impressed. Safari is very close to great, but they're not putting enough time and effort into the little things that just add up to irritation.

I cannot get Safari to run for more than a little while without getting interludes of spinning rainbows. I know all the tricks, including disabling favicon downloads, reducing page load delay settings, and so forth. Nothing helps. Firefox has a few things that bug me, including a lack of keystroke commands--I'm sure I just need to dig deeper to find them or set them to my needs--but the rendering is fast and no spinning rainbows. It's multi-threading (whether it's real or just a programmatic illusion) means that it can render in one window while I switch to another.

Safari bogs down on sites with lots of JavaScript or long tables. Safari doesn't store passwords on every page that needs them. Opera's granular password management support (always for page or site or never for page or site) is better than Firefox's, but Firefox can store passwords on SSL enabled pages and normal Web pages alike.

I've now switched to Firefox on both my home and work machines. Once I moved into full-time Firefox, as opposed to testing it, I like it even more. Everything is snappier, and simpler. You can't import bookmarks from Safari, which is silly and pointless.

Ironically, to make Firefox your default browser under Mac OS X, you have to run Safari, select Preferences, and set Default Web Browser to Firefox.

Get Firefox!
My dad notes that you can improve Safari's speed by dumping Autofill entries, but then I ask: why use Safari without having those entries available?

What Bandwidth RSS Uses

I ran the calculations on how much bandwidth RSS aggregators are sucking from my Web server by scanning for retrievals of files named index.xml, index.rdf, rss.xml, atom.xml, and scriptingnews2.xml. I looked at just the HTTP code 200 transactions, not the 304 (no modification) retrievals which are just a handful of bytes. The chart is below:
Most of this RSS is for Wi-Fi Networking News; a tiny fraction for and a few other blogs. You can see the growth and the weekends pretty obviously--weekends make the most sense as I'm least likely to post updates, so well-behaved RSS aggregators are least likely to get changed files, while ill-behaved ones are more likely to be on computers that are turned off for the weekend. In early October, the weekday average was about 275 Mb; in mid-November, we're up to 375 Mb. (BoingBoing linked to this post, and their own stats: They feed 50 Gb per month of news aggregator feeds -- that's more than they ship in HTML!)

Now my co-location host, digital.forest, has great bandwidth pricing: a buck a gig over the 80 Gb per machine that I have co-located. I transfer about 2 Gb per day in Web site traffic from the machine that's now pushing out nearly half a gig in RSS traffic. I may have to build a custom RSS Apache doohickey that will force a 304 (no change) to an RSS aggregator if it doesn't have an If-Modified-Since tag in its request.

I did a quick look at which aggregators represent the most traffic, and a very small number of users employing lwp-trivial, a perl-based HTTP query system, appear to be using over 10 percent of my RSS bandwidth! Time to fix their wagons, to be sure. It makes sense that various Mozilla browsers that have RSS support are using about 15 percent. NetNewsWire makes a very strong showing of 10 percent of usage lately. (Click image to see the full-sized chart; I dropped out days in which aggregators retrieve less than 7 MB, which is why you see some gaps. You can also see NetNewsWIre's beta 6 adoption curve. If you have a better way to graph this, I'm open to it: click here to download the Excel file which generated this chart.)

I can tell that Mozilla-derivatives like Firefox and NetNewsWire are well behaved because the bandwidth-abusing aggregators don't drop their traffic usage much on weekends; the well-behaved ones drop by about 80 percent. This could also indicate that the poorly behaved ones are more likely to be running on servers instead of on personal computers, too.

Bad Translation

bikestand_compulsionTo cheer woes this November day, here is the greatest bad translation of a product manual ever created. I have a hard time believing the translator had more than a passing familiarity with English, or was viewing the entire project as a giant joke. The manual is for a bikestand that holds up to four bikes. It includes these gems:

  • You don't climb or hang from BIKE TOWER-3100. And keep out small babies from BIKE TOWER2.
  • It is your duty that you always adjust the degree of the Frame Hook Beam when you hang another bicycles.
  • If you felt any troubles about your BIKE TOWER-3100, you must stop using soon.
  • When you waste metal parts, keep away from small children to prevent from some injuries by them.

And my favorite sequence of three signs indicating various safety problems:

  • This sign means most dangerous things as death or serious injury or damage to your posessions.
  • This sign means forbid things.
  • This sign means your duty as compulsion things.